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Friday, November 18, 2005


I used to pride myself on my spelling and grammar. I am still happy with my punctuation skills, I even know when to use a semi-colon; however, I am less happy with my spelling skills nowadays. Things started going downhill a couple of years ago and have not improved.

There are two key features to my spelling problems. The first is the use of a keyboard. Simple spelling errors come from bad keystrokes and a peculiar effect that seems to be based on the difference in speed between my left and right hands. When I type words such as 'the' I tend to follow this pattern:

t: right hand
h: right hand

e: left hand

except that my left hand responds quicker to the command to depress the 'e' key than my right does to get to, and press, the 'h'. I am aware of this now and so often check my work for 'teh', though many still creep in (irony check - are there any in this post?). Additionally, I find it very hard to proof-read my own work, especially on a screen; I tend to read across the words as I know what I was trying to say and that is what I 'see' when I proof-read. For some reason this problem is exacerbated (I wanted to start that with 'ass') on a monitor.

The other problem is much more simple and yet complex at the same time: I cannot bloody spell anymore! Misspelled words just look wrong but I cannot for the life of me think how to correct them. This is linked to other problems that I seem to have: a drop off in my vocabulary; this was quite extensive when I was younger but now, not so much. This applies mostly to my speech. I often become highly frustrated searching for very simple words in ordinary conversation - this manifested a few years ago in my PhD viva voce when I struggled to think of the words 'perpendicular' ("not parallel!!!", I finally screamed) and 'gravity' ("you know, thingie!").
I do not understand what it is that has caused this fritz in my speech abilities but it appears to be persistent. I often find myself trying to say one thing and complete nonsense, made-up words, come spilling from my lips. I dread this happening in a conference talk. No one has said anything yet, but I fear it is just a matter of time.

Anyway, my wife told me off yesterday for the terrible spelling in my weblog. So from now on I am going to expend a little more effort to get things write.


Update: Oh great and now my use of paragraphs is taken from me by blogger. That should fix it.


G-Do said...

Do you still read fiction? That does it for me - volumes and volumes of good fiction.

Averroes said...

Kav, i have the same problem, as you can tell. I have noticed especially in the last year that my vocabulary has lost some richness, and there is a certain persevertion on terms that i have to work to overcome (and sometimes don't sork to overcome.

In addition, i have long noticed "blockjing" when reaching for terms, which allows me plenty of chances to observe and contemplate the William james "tip of the toungue" phenomenon. it is humbling to go to my wife to ask here what word i am trying to get at, only to have her say "it. Is that the word?" and have her be right. (OK, maybe it isn't quite that bad.)

As for typing, I have never been good at her. i remember my high school typing teacher yelling at me, "there are no chords on a typewrieter." In those days, playint chords often meant a job of unjamming the typewriter at best, or a trip to the repair shop at worst.

I have the same problem as you do in right-left matters. it changes with time, for no apparent reqson, (er- I commonly make repetitive letter substitutions, like 'q' for 'a'). except that which of my gnarled hands is working better changes from day to day. Recently, for no apparent rason 'because' always becomes 'becasue' if i just let my hands go.

Most maddening is my tendency to hit the Caps Lock while typing only to have a paragraph of all caps when i look up.

Worse, although i do a scan for erros on comments, i often don't notice them until they are sent, when they come out a little bigger.

Some of this, the perseveration, the blocking, is most probably due to bbrain damage, which I worked hard on for many years.

But the really odd things is this: none of this seems to have effected my piano playing, ad i can't thik of one reason why. Sure, i am a little less nimble, but i can still play almost all the clasical music I ever did, and don't have any left-right problems. I have no problems working up new pieces. My jazz playing is as fluid and creative as it ever was (I'm making no claims here). i can still play with the ideal to never play the same thing the same way, ever. I still try to avoid cliches, even ones of my own making.

I just can't understand why my hand-brain combo continues to work so well on the piano, and is becoming increasingly useless at the computer keyboard.

Kav said...

g-do, I read lots of fiction. It doesn't help.

This is a relatively new phenomenon; I was fine through university years (less than 10 years ago). The worst thing about it is that in some ways and at some times I have a very short fuse - I get frustrated with some things very easily and this is one of them. I make myself so angry when I cannot get the word I am grasping for and then I get angry that I have gotten angry. Highly frustrating!

Worse, although i do a scan for erros on comments, i often don't notice them until they are sent, when they come out a little bigger.

Is it because they are a little bigger? I wonder about this. My wife reminded me of the studies that have shown that we often fail to see words as 'wrong' if they start and end with the correct letters. I also wonder whether it has something to do with the mindset whilst commenting - we wish to do it and have it submitted and only once we move out of that mind frame we see with 'unhurried' eyes.

Averroes said...

Kav, you are probably right.

I had another brain damge phenomenon whilst i was working in labs in my thirties. Suddenly, over a period of a mere six months, most of my techniques went from my right hand to my left. "Power" hand moves, like operating a Pipetman, remained in my right hand, but the rest crossed over.

I wonder how much we misspell our names in the hurry to post.

Kav said...

Averroes, funny, on reflection I was going to add that you were probably right about the size thing. :-)

The way the brain deals with damage is quite incredible. It fascinates me but i know little about it.

As to misspelling names, I know I misspell other people's but mine is safely pre-entered. :-)

Averroes said...

I "grew up" so to speak, on the works of A. Luria, a russian psychologist who worked with brain-damaged WWII vets (in Russia). He also developed what became known as "Luria's little tests," bedside tests using no instruments designed to locate brain damage. Of course these last are obsolete with modern imaging techniques. (I think it was karl Pribram who developed similar psychological tests for damage localizatikon in america, about 20 years after Luria.)

I'll share one case.
there was a man who had lost the "as if" ability. He would be asked to stand next to a wall, and then would be asked to "knock on the wall as if it were a door." he would remain immobile. But if he was asked to knock on the wall, he would respoind immediately, often knocking as one does on a door! This pervaded his entire life, and was quite debilitating. Think how it would effect your life.

Luria's The Working Brain (1973) may be a bit outdated at times, but it is a first rate introduction to brain sytructure and function. the title was chosen to suggest an amplitive to Magouin's The Waking Brain, published about a decade before.

Luria also published a book about a mnemnist whose recall was so vivid that he had trouble telling recall from present reality! In another book, he edited and commented on the yourhnal of a man with a massive head wound. i think the latter was called something like "A man with a shattered mind." Something like that.

Kav said...

Thanks, I'll have to look for them. It seems that our library has a copy.